Parents can act over cyber bullying

2013-08-14 08:32
Smartphone. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Smartphone. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Parents can take action when their children are bullied online, an academic has asserted.

"Depending on the nature of the cyber bullying, the actions that a parent can take could even result in for example, civil or criminal liability," Riaan Rudman, lecturer at Stellenbosch University told News24.

Few studies have been done in South Africa on the issue of cyber bullying, but some evidence suggests that the phenomenon is growing, particularly as more young people have access to cellphones.

A study by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) in 2012 found that there are differences in the gender as far as exposure to bullying was concerned.

"South African girls are found to be only slightly more susceptible to cyber bullying both at  home (43.4%) and in the school environment (33.1%) compared to boys (42.4% at home and 29.3% at school) - a trend observed internationally as well," the study says.


While many minors have access to sophisticated chat platforms online, relatively few adults are aware of the nature of conversations where users can often anonymously comment.

A case in point is the outoilet platform where young people across SA are exposed to negative comments and sexual solicitations.

"Ladys im a sex lover inv me on mixt..." one of the messages, which includes the sender's phone number, reads in part.

The platform has few controls to ensure that children are not exposed to adult sexual content and Rudman said that child safety should be paramount.

"The question of 'do enough' when it comes to child safety is difficult to answer. You can never 'do enough' when it comes to child safety. More can always be done."

Local platform Mxit said that the platform received few complaints on cyber bullying, but that generally girls were the target of such attacks.

"When there are complaints there is a definite skew toward girls between the ages of 12 and 17 being the target," Mxit vice president of Communications Sarah Rice told News24.

Social media

Rudman said that social media companies are not responsible for cyber bullying.

"But the responsibility does not only lie with social media companies. Parents, scholars, teachers, government, everyone has a role to play and must take responsibility," he said.

The study suggested that phone calls was the most common form of bullying, and the research showed that this method made up 28% of bullying versus 25.6% via SMS, 12.2% via instant messages and 11.7% in chat rooms.

The Protection from Harassment Act was promulgated in 2013 as an attempt to prevent bullying online, but the new law has not yet been tested to check whether it is effective.

The act specifically targets sexual harassment with language that reads, in part, "engaging in verbal, electronic or any other communication aimed at the complainant or a related person, by any means, whether or not conversation ensues" as reasonable grounds for a complaint.


The CJCP study shows that both genders are equally disposed to perpetrate cyber bullying, due partly to the perception of no consequences for the action.

"Research, however, indicates no significant differences between the sexes with regard to the perpetration of cyber violence," wrote authors Maša Popovac and Lezanne Leoschut.

According to Rudman, educating role-players was key to limiting the impact of cyber bullying.

Rather than holding 'others' accountable, educating scholars, teachers, parents and the like is a powerful weapon to reduce the impact of cyber bullying.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    mxit  |  cybercrime

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